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SA plays vital role in the historic finding of the Endurance, over 100 years after it sank

Far out in the South Atlantic the SA Agulhas 11 is on a mission to find one of the most highly sought after relics of the golden age of polar exploration. Picture: Endurance22

Far out in the South Atlantic the SA Agulhas 11 is on a mission to find one of the most highly sought after relics of the golden age of polar exploration. Picture: Endurance22

Published Mar 9, 2022


Cape Town – Polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s vessel, Endurance, has been found after more than 100 years since it was crushed by ice and sank in 1915, marking major milestones in polar history while South Africa played a vital role in its search.

What is the importance of the Endurance?

Sir Shackleton aimed to achieve the first land crossing of Antarctica from Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea, via the South Pole. It was dubbed the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition or the ‘Endurance Expedition’. However, the Endurance – while in the Weddell Sea – never reached land as it became trapped in ice, forcing the 28 man crew to abandon ship as the Endurance was consumed.

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The crew then floated on ice for months, until they salvaged life boats and eventually reached the inhabited Elephant Island.

Picture: Google Maps

“The band of 28 crew members would have had to draw upon every ounce of strength, tenacity and courage that they possessed in order to survive the failed expedition, which is now remembered in history as one of the most epic feats of endurance in the heroic age of Antarctic exploration,” the expedition aiming to find, survey and film the wreck, Endurance 22 revealed.

The probability of rescue from the remote Elephant Island was so slim that explorer Shackleton, Captain Frank Worsely and three others made a lengthy 1 300km journey in a lifeboat to reach South Georgia in order to increase their chances of survival. The men crossed the uncharted mountainous, glacier-ridden island of South Georgia to reach Norwegian whalers.

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More than nine months since the Endurance was abandoned and sunk on November 21, 1915, the crew was rescued on August 30, 1916, without any loss of life.

Captain Worsely’s detailed records on the day the vessel sank allowed an expedition in 2022 to find the wreckage.

South Africa’s role in the Endurance search

South African Captain Knowledge Bengu commanded the South African- and Cape Town-registered ice breaking vessel, SA Agulhas II, which set sail from the Mother City last month to the Endurance’s location, Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis and the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, revealed on Wednesday.

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“The SA Agulhas II is one of the most advanced and modern polar research vessels in the world and is used by the Department for annual science and logistics expeditions into the Southern Ocean and Antarctica,” the department of environment said.

The SA Agulhas II was chartered by the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust, and the Endurance wreckage was originally located on March 5, however only informed of its whereabouts on Tuesday.

“We are proud of the role that South Africa, through the SA Agulhas II, has played in the success of this expedition. It is a success that can be attributed to the excellent cooperation between the Department, the expedition leaders and the Department’s ship management company – AMSOL,” Minister of the Department of Environment Barbara Creecy said on Wednesday.

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Meanwhile Cape Town mayor Hill-Lewis congratulated the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust and Endurance22 expedition on their success.

“I look forward to welcoming the Endurance22 back to Cape Town. I hope to convey to them – in person at Cape Town harbour – my thanks and admiration for their discovery, which marks an important historical and scientific moment for Cape Town and the whole world,” he added.

Mensun Bound, Director of Exploration on the expedition is astonished by the preservation of the wooden shipwreck all these years later, as the words “Endurance” can be clearly seen across the stern of the ship.


“We have made polar history with the discovery of Endurance, and successfully completed the world’s most challenging shipwreck search. In addition, we have undertaken important scientific research in a part of the world that directly affects the global climate and environment,” expedition leader Dr John Shears said.

Shears revealed that Endurance22 conducted an unprecedented outreach programme in this process, with live broadcasts to captivate new generations to “become inspired by the amazing stories of polar exploration, and what human beings can achieve and the obstacles they can overcome when they work together”.

“The Expedition team, and the officers and crew of the SA Agulhas II, have been simply outstanding. I would also like to say thank you to The Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust, and all of our partners, especially in South Africa, who have played a vital role in the success of the expedition,” he added.


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